This week, three ex-racehorses will prance into the spotlight of the Pennsylvania Horse World Expo as remade creatures.
Their heads will reach down into the bridles for connection. They will move up slowly into the trot, and will canter into a pretty frame, just weeks after running their last competitive races.
In proving how malleable their minds and willing their spirits, horses with names like Four X The Trouble, Brazilian Wedding, Solidify, an alternate, and High Level, will advance the pioneering work of The Retired Racehorse Training Project.
“We put four horses, including an alternate, into training right away,” says Steuart Pittman, founder of the federal nonprofit training program. “They all have different personalities and different trainers, and they started learning from day one at our kickoff event in Maryland, with over 1,000 people packed in against the rails, watching.”
Attendees of the Maryland Horse World Expo, Jan. 20-22, snapped pictures and applauded as the horses were led to an indoor arena by the trainers who have paired up with a particular horse to prove it can be done.
- Four X The Trouble is training with Kerry Blackmer, owner of Miles Ahead Farm, which is run from Loch Moy Farm near Frederick, Maryland. She is currently retraining eight ex-racehorses for resale, and has studied with Buck Davison.
- Solidify and High Level are each being schooled by Tiffany Catledge, an A-rated competitor in hunter, dressage and cross-country. She operates out of Allforit Farm in Middleburg, Va.
- Brazilian Wedding is paired with Eric Dierks, a top-level rider with a strong dressage foundation. He runs Eric Dierks Equestrian out of Renovatio Farm in Tryon, N.C.
Horse and rider teams kicked off the training by demonstrating the walk, trot and canter at the Maryland expo last month, then took the horses home to train in front of a national audience.
Videos and trainer blogs have filled the retired Retired Racehorse Training Project website, attracting tens of thousands of readers and viewers.
“We launched our website in December 2011 and we’ve already had 60,000 page views,” Pittman says. “And our You Tube channel, where the trainers have posted their videos, has had 35,000 views!”
People are fascinated to watch a step-by-step demonstration, showing everything from the mounting-block experience to collection at gaits, that is both instructional, and helps generate positive buzz about ex-racehorses, he adds.
“This is all part of a package to help” promote the breed to the horse-buying public “and increase demand for the horses,” Pittman says. The goal being to inspireracehorse owners to sell their horses at higher prices to the public before entering them into lower-level claiming races, he explains.
This kickoff “trainer challenge” will conclude at the Pennsylvania Horse expo with judging by leading authorities in the Thoroughbred world.
The show, say Conrad and Brown, is a capstone event that will highlight the hidden talents of a Thoroughbred fresh off the track.
“By showing the horse-buying public that off-track Thoroughbreds are kind, trainable and suitable for any discipline, we all win!” says Conrad. “I really applaud Steuart Pittman’s initiative to showcase ex-racers in such a forward-thinking and public way.”
Brown, a former exercise rider, says the event is a novel approach to help ex-racehorses.
“This is a fantastic program because it not only showcases how valuable an off-track Thoroughbred can be in a second career, but it also spotlights trainers” who assist ex-racehorses in fulfilling new destinies.
Pittman couldn’t be happier with the way his project has caught on. The more positive buzz and attention the horse and riders receive, the better for all connected with Thoroughbreds.
“Our mission is to encourage people to train these horses well,” he says. “These horses come off the track as athletes, and once they have good training, they’ll wind up in good homes.”